Watching the Republican implosion over President
What would our 40th president think of the disarray in which his beloved
Of course, we don't know what he would do. But we know what he did.
In 1986, President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (a.k.a. Simpson-Mazzoli), which allowed some 3 million immigrants who were in the country illegally to come out of the shadows and become full-fledged members of society.
“I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally,” Reagan said in 1984 during a debate with his Democratic challenger,
Was the law a success? Depends on your politics.
Those who believed it would put an end to illegal immigration were destined for disappointment. (There will never be an end to illegal immigration; the trick is to control it and to develop a rational policy around it.)
But for Latinos who were able to set themselves and loved ones on a path to citizenship, it was a stunning success. Many of those families have worshipful feelings about Reagan, even if they became Democrats after naturalization.
And this gets to the crux of the issue for so many conservatives who see the idea of amnesty or a path to legalization as tantamount to gifting the Democratic party with new voters.
But this is silly. Deep down, Republicans know there is a reason that Latino voters, who will constitute nearly 30% of the electorate by 2050, have been turned off. It's the GOP's harsh attitude towards immigration.
“If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States [i.e. self-deportation], they will not pay attention to our next sentence,” Republican National Committee Chairman
Latino voters certainly did not flock in big numbers to Republican candidates after Reagan signed the 1986 amnesty law. But, looking at Latino voting trends in presidential elections, it is also true that Latinos vote in larger numbers for Republicans who are sympathetic to their issues, or at least show a humane grasp of the impulse behind illegal immigration.
For instance, when then-Texas Gov.
In 2000, Bush got nearly 35% of the Latino vote (compared with the 21% that GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole got in 1996), and nearly 44% in 2004.
Twelve years later,
"The answer," he said during a GOP debate in January 2012, "is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can't find work here because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here."
The phrase was so damaging that nearly a year after the election, in August 2013, Priebus described it as "horrific."
And it hurt Romney, who received only 29% of the Latino vote (surprising, considering Romney's own father was born in Mexico in 1907).
"Hispanics are already Republican," Reagan used to say. "They just don't know it."
At this rate, they never will.